MORELIA, Mexico – Ai Miyazato handled the gusting winds better than her long-hitting partners Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome, shooting a 2-under 71 Saturday for a one-stroke lead over the two Americans in the Tres Marias Championship.
Miyazato, the Japanese star who won the season-opening events in Thailand and Singapore, had a 13-under 206 total at Tres Marias Country Club.
Wie, a stroke ahead after two rounds, shot a 73, and Lincicome had a 72 in windy conditions on the mountainside course. Wie won her lone LPGA Tour title 5 1/2 months ago in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Ochoa’s hometown of Guadalajara.
“I like to play in the wind because I grew up in a windy place,” said Miyazato, who was raised in the small village of Higashison on the Japanese island of Okinawa. “It’s still tough playing in the wind for me, but I have a good image in my head even if I am playing in tough, windy conditions.”
Ochoa, the top-ranked star retiring after the tournament to raise a family and work on her charity foundation, carded a 70 and was sixth at 10 under. She finished at 25 under last year to win this event for the second straight year and third time in four seasons.
Miyazato, far shorter off the tee than Wie and Lincicome, used her control and accuracy to play more consistently. All players battled the 2,000-meter (6,500 feet) altitude, where the ball travels about 10 percent farther.
“Honestly, I thought some holes were not fair because they (Wie and Lincicome) hit too long,” Miyazato said, drawing a laugh. “But I have confidence with my short game and my putting is really comfortable right now.”
Miyazato fell four strokes behind Wie after five holes, but patiently worked her way back with birdies on Nos. 6 and 7. She also birdied 12, dropped a shot on 15, but birdied 16 and closed with two pars on the two tough finishing holes.
“That definitely got me going,” Miyazato said of the back-to-back birdies. “I thought the par 5s were very difficult today so it helped me that I was able to make birdies on those par 4s.”
Wie bogeyed two of the last four holes on Saturday after closing with two bogeys Friday on 17 and 18.
Wie’s 73 was by far her worst score, following opening rounds of 66 and 68.
“It was a bit of a struggle today,” she said. “I didn’t really hit the ball as well as I wanted to, never putted the way I wanted to, but I’ll hopefully straighten things out for tomorrow. … I just didn’t feel comfortable out there today.”
Ochoa is in contention, and will be boosted by thousands of Mexican fans expected on Sunday.
“The only thing I wanted to do was to enjoy every moment and give myself a chance on Sunday,” Ochoa said. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s second place, fourth place, first place. Nobody is going to take this week away.”
Ochoa said she’s cried each day of the tournament, and expected more tears Sunday as she says farewell.
“Not in a sad way, but I know I am not coming back, so it’s a hard feeling.”
Ochoa took the No. 1 ranking just over three years ago – April 23, 2007 – from Annika Sorenstam. According to the tour’s unofficial calculations, she needs to finish at least fourth Sunday to be guaranteed of holding the ranking for at least one more week.
A finish below that could open the door for No. 2 Jiyai Shin or No. 5 Miyazato.
Shin is playing an event this weekend in Japan, and could move to the top of the rankings by winning there, provided Ochoa finishes fifth or lower. Miyazato could also do it if she wins the Tres Marias title and Ochoa finishes 10th or worse.